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NEIGHBORHOOD GUIDE

A guide to local favorites in Río Piedras

  • By Jhoni Jackson
  • Photos by Dennis Rivera Pichardo
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Río Piedras is far from being recognized as a tourist zone, but it’s one of Puerto Rico’s oldest neighborhoods, with residents and businesses working to revive this area thought by some to be rough in pockets (at times, it can feel empty). But don’t overlook gems like historic architecture throughout and the University of Puerto Rico’s main campus. If you happen to be in town on the last Thursday of the month, at night you’ll find an outdoor celebration organized by local businesses, with vendors and music filling its plazas. Walk down Avenida Universidad for even more activity.

Meet Jhoni Jackson

Jhoni, an Atlanta native of Cuban descent, relocated to Puerto Rico in 2012. She first experienced Puerto Rico with her abuelos during her preteen years. Through the friends and community she’s found, San Juan has become an unexpected but fulfilling home.

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Río Piedras

Casa de Cultura Ruth Hernández Torres
Community work is done at this two-story salmon-pink building, named for the professor who helped it become a cultural center. In addition to dance performances, music classes and health workshops, it’s also a starting point for historic neighborhood tours.
Casa de Cultura Ruth Hernández Torres, 1151 Ave. Ponce de León, San Juan
Church in Plaza de la Convalecencia
Unmissable in this expansive plaza — long ago, it served as the town square — is the magnificent Catholic church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar, first erected as a parish in 1714. After natural disasters and unforeseen disruption when the nearby Tren Urbano was built, the church has been reconstructed several times, but always carefully.
Plaza de la Convalecencia, Avenida de Ponce de León and Calle Georgetti, San Juan
Heladería Georgetti
The owner of this shop started making homemade mantecado (dairy-based ice cream) and helado (fruit-based) as a teenager while working at another, established Río Piedras heladería. When it closed, he opened his own spot, Georgetti. All the staple flavors are here, as well as guayaba, papaya, ginger, coconut and acerola.
Heladería Georgetti, 14 Calle Georgetti, San Juan
El Churro Bar
Located in an immaculate former house (ask the staff, who’ll give the rundown and a tour), this Mexican taqueria offers delectable dessert churros, plus savory tacos and quesadillas (vegan-style included). Mezcal shots, a variety of Jarritos flavors and Mexican candies are also available.
El Churro Bar, 4 Calle Georgetti, San Juan
Plaza del Mercado de Río Piedras
Step inside the huge market with the white exterior for kiosks piled high with local fruits and vegetables, and, in the cafeteria area, booths selling baked goods, smoothies, frituras and typical Puerto Rican dishes. The nearby Paseo de Diego, a walkable outdoor commercial stretch (despite many shuttered shops), turns up all kinds of retail, even on its side streets (don’t miss Necromancy Cosmetica on Calle Arzuaga).
Plaza del Mercado de Río Piedras, 1046 Calle Vallejo, San Juan
University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras
Established in the early 1900s, UPR’s Río Piedras campus is packed with history, from its eye-catching architecture to its student-led political movements (between landmarks like the tower and the university’s theater, you’ll notice graffiti, wheatpastes and other displays of resistance from students). On your stroll through, consider hitting the on-campus Museum of History, Anthropology and Art, which is open to the public.
University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, Ave. Universidad #601, San Juan
El Boricua
A gathering place for students and non-students for decades, El Boricua is as much an unofficial Río Piedras landmark as it is a dive bar. There’s live music most nights (plena every Monday), a pool table and a jukebox, and the side room is often filled with people dancing salsa in pairs.
El Boricua, 5 Calle Saldaña, San Juan
Jhoni Jackson
Jhoni, an Atlanta native of Cuban descent, relocated to Puerto Rico in 2012. She first experienced Puerto Rico with her abuelos during her preteen years. Through the friends and community she’s found, San Juan has become an unexpected but fulfilling home.
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Dennis Rivera Pichardo
Dennis is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in San Juan.
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